Britain’s Private Schools Dropping A-levels Due to Political Uncertainty

Private schools in Britain are increasingly dropping A-levels, the exams used to gauge student achievement, and are switching instead to the International A-Levels – the standards created for the foreign market which are less likely to be the target of tinkering by government officials. There’s also a growing interest among private school students in Cambridge Pre-U, which is considered a more traditional assessment system used in British institutions before subject-level A-levels came into wider use.

Not willing to wait for the Coalition to complete its A-level overhaul, this year more than 350 schools are abandoning A-levels in favor of alternate exams. 188 are offering the International Baccalaureate diploma, 72 are entering students for the International A-levels and 99 are offering the Pre-U.

Among the schools that have turned away from the A-levels, the concerns seem to be not only the growing uncertainty as the process to make the exams more rigorous drags on, but also fear that the changes could be undone should Labour win in the next general election scheduled for May 7th, 2015.

But Ed Elliott, head of The Perse School, Cambridge, said many schools were unwilling to wait for the reforms or risk them being reversed by a future Labour administration.

The school offers the Pre-U in psychology, music, physics and chemistry and will move towards the International A-level in biology from September.

“The Perse does not want to be part of a game of political ping pong which will destabilise the exam system to the disadvantage of students,” he said.

Elliott says that in the current political environment it only makes sense to sit out A-level exams in the near future until reform efforts shake out one way or another. Meanwhile, Perse students will have access to qualifications that are proven, rigorous, recognized internationally and don’t have political infighting tainting them.

Cambridge International Examinations developed Pre-U as a more rigorous version of A-levels. CIE offers the exams in addition to the International A-levels which the organization has been running for more than 50 years.

The IB — championed by schools such as Sevenoaks, Wellington College and King Edward’s, Birmingham — is a diploma qualification developed in Geneva and is designed to offer a more rounded experience for sixth-formers, with students taking a range of subjects, as well as completing an extended essay and doing community work. Latest figures from CIE show that 99 schools made entries for the Pre-U this year, up from 98 in 2012, and a further 150 are registered to teach it from September this year.